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In The Lab with Boi-1da

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Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

It would be a travesty to make a list of rap’s hottest producers right now and not put Boi-1da’s name at or near the top of it. This man can cook, and he has the track record to prove it. Let’s not even talk about his past for a second. Let’s focus on the present. Have you heard what he’s been lacing his Toronto neighbor Drake with these past few months? First, there was “Draft Day.” Fire. Then “Believe Me” with Lil Wayne. Whoa. Then “0 to 100.” Holy shit. Talk about going three for three. This guy is currently competing with himself for the dopest beat of the year title. Whether you’re a die-hard Drizzy fan or not, you can’t front on any of those tracks. And we’re not even touching on the recent joints he did for Nicki Minaj, ScHoolboy Q, and Future. Boi-1da is in a sick zone right now, and there are no signs of him letting up.

For our latest In The Lab, Boi-1da took us inside his home studio to break down his software and equipment set-up, where he gets the sounds he uses to make his beats (he sometimes trades kits with dudes like Hit-Boy and Havoc), and what his daily routine is like. Plus, he explained how classic ‘90s hip-hop has inspired his current bangers, gave us the history behind his first time in the studio with Drake, and the making of hit records like “Best I Ever Had,” the all-star posse cut “Forever,” and Eminem’s smash single “Not Afraid.” Plus much more, including how he flipped the Lauryn Hill sample on “Draft Day,” collaborating with producer partner Vinylz on “FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt” and “The Language,” and crafting the “Pound Cake” beat around a Jay Z acapella. Take a trip down to Boi-1da’s basement below.

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Software

Boi-1da: “I’ve always used the same program, FL Studio, since day one. It was the first program I started using, and I still use it to this day. The first time I remember using it was like 2002. I think I had a Pentium III PC computer. We never had a computer before, and my mom finally bought one. I used to just play a lot of games on the computer, but around the same time, my friend told me about the program Fruity Loops, and how you’re able to make beats with it. And I was always curious about how beats were made. I would hear songs on the radio and be like, ‘I wonder how this is put together? The beat is cool.’

“It took me about two months to actually download the program, but it was like three in the morning and I was really bored, it was the summertime, I was a teenager, and I was like, ‘You know what? Let me just download this program and see what it does.’ And once I downloaded it, it was so addictive, because I understood the process of how to make a beat. And I kept doing it and studying it until I realized it was seven in the morning. And every single beat I’ve ever made [since then has been done on FL Studio], just the newer versions. Every year or so they update it.”

Sounds

“I went from using a tower computer to a laptop, which I have equipped with a MIDI keyboard, and a hard drive for my sounds. I load all my sounds onto a hard drive because I have gigs and gigs and gigs of sounds, and it would take up too much space on the computer.

“I buy sounds off of different miscellaneous websites where you can pay for kits. I don’t have a go-to site. And sometimes, I’ll take little sounds out of songs, and load samples here and there. I get sounds from anywhere. The other day, I heard a sound on a YouTube video, and I ripped it from YouTube. I get sounds from wherever. I have a 1.5 terabyte hard drive I’ve been using for four years and it’s still not filled. I just keep loading it up.

“I trade sounds with producers as well. I have a buddy who’s a producer named Jazzfeezy who I’ve done a few beats with, I trade the most sounds with him. I’ve gotten sounds from T-Minus, Hit-Boy I’ve traded with as well. A guy named Glass John, he produces for Beyonce and [some other big artists]. I got some sounds the other day from Illmind. I got some from Havoc from Mobb Deep. A lot of people that I meet up with and get in contact with I trade sounds with. It’s a producer thing. When you get up, you trade a few sound kits with each other. It’s just a thing that we do.

“I’m more of a new aged digger, like an mp3 kind of guy. I’ll rip from YouTube, and other online stuff. I may have ripped one or two samples off actual vinyl, but it’s a task to get something from vinyl to mp3. It takes so much longer. I’m a guy who likes to put things together quickly. And there’s no process, it can [start] from anything—a sound, a drum, it’s always something different.”

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Studio Set-Up

“For the most part, I make a lot of my beats at my house, in my basement. I have a regular set-up. It’s just an empty room, with a couch and a table, and some KRK Rokit speakers and a huge subwoofer. It’s just a basic set-up, nothing fancy. I lock the room door, and do it the old-fashioned way. My walls are not even soundproof.”

Daily Routine

“The way I work is I just vibe out, and figure things out on the fly. I never try to say, ‘I’m gonna make this,’ or, ‘I’m gonna make that.’ Whatever’s in the moment, I’m gonna try.

“I have a four-year-old daughter, and I usually have her half the time, so I have to wake up and bring her to school by 8:30 in the morning. So on those days I’m going to sleep really early because I have to wake up early. I’m usually pretty organized on those days because I have to be a responsible parent. But on the days that I don’t have her, I’m up late, always, working on music, or just chillin’.

“I don’t like to force it. Some people try to work on music every day. Sometimes I’ll just be chillin’, watching Netflix or playing NBA 2K or something. I work on beats when I get the urge. It’s like any other urge that anyone else would have. When I get that urge, I’ll go off. Sometimes I’ll go a whole week just working on music, knocking out incredible beats. But for the most part, I just chill, and wait ‘til the vibe comes to me.

“The other day, I felt really inspired. When I get the feeling, I like to squeeze all the juice out of the orange, and really exhaust it. I think I made like six tracks in a day, and they’re all ready to go. Like, they’ll be used. [Laughs.]”

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Studio Essentials

“Really and truly, all I need is some loud-ass speakers, and possibly a dude who can play the piano really well. I don’t do any drugs or anything, and I don’t like to drink when I’m in the studio because it makes me want to go out to a party. So, I’m pretty sober in the studio. I don’t need much, just the essentials there to make music.”

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Working with Musicians/Producers

“I work with musicians frequently. I do a lot of work by myself, but I love to have a musician in there to bring a different accent to the music, or a different opinion. Even another producer in there like me that’s a visionary, just to get thoughts on what’s going on with what I’m doing. But I work with a lot of musicians. Sometimes I need a chord progression that I wouldn’t want to do myself. Being a fan of music, I don’t really want to learn that stuff either, because sometimes I will hear something and go off of feeling rather than theory or the mathematics of the music. I more want to hear something beautiful and incorporate it, rather than say, ‘That note doesn’t go with that note.’ I’m making music from almost like a listener’s perspective.”

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Inspiration for Recent Beats

“I like to watch movies, even trailers. Video clips. I can be inspired by anything. I watched that X-Men movie the other day, and I was like, ‘Yo, that movie is dope, I feel like making a beat.’ It can come from watching a good basketball game that just hypes me up. I get adrenaline, and then I go straight to the basement to go work. It’s not anything specific, but most of the time, if I feel hyped up or excited by anything, it will drive me to get to the studio.

“To be honest, over the past few months, I’ve been listening to old school classic Nas and Mobb Deep. Old school 50 Cent. A lot of older music from New York from the ‘90s and early 2000s. And I feel like that’s been inspiring what I’m doing now. If you hear ‘0 to 100,’ it has that gritty, ‘90s hip-hop, Wu-Tang vibe to it. ‘Believe Me’ has a real Mobb Deep feel to it. That’s the music I’ve been listening to over the past few months. That’s what I’ve been trying to channel into what’s been going on.

“I just want people to look at things from how I feel about music. If I’m listening to old school ‘90s stuff, I’m going to translate it into what’s going on right now. If you listen to ‘Draft Day,’ ‘Believe Me,’ ‘0 to 100,’ or ‘Chi-Raq,’ it’s really old school based, but new aged. Even when I did ‘Chi-Raq,’ I felt like I was influenced by some old school No Limit. Those basic Dirty South beats that just sound dark. Pretty much, I’ve been influencing myself recently with nostalgic music that I grew up listening to.

“I was always a fan of that music, and I even did some stuff on the new Mobb album. But I feel like that’s what the game needed right now. No disrespect to any other producers, because I like what’s going on right now. But a lot of the stuff is really colorful, with the usual Dirty South racing hi-hats. So I was like, ‘There’s a void for that grittiness.’ And I feel like that’s what people want to hear. They want it to go back to that competitive, gritty, ‘90s feel, and that’s where I’m taking it with the new music I’m doing.”

Rapper Reactions

“I remember I was in the studio with Drake, and I seen his reaction when he heard the ‘0 to 100’ beat for the first time, and his face just lit up. Remember that Kobe Bryant face, when he was on fire dropping 81 points and he was making that evil face? He had like one of those faces. I’ve been working with a lot of people these days, and that’s been everybody’s reaction. Like, ‘Damn, this is exactly what I want to hear right now.’ Even with Nicki, when she heard ‘Chi-Raq,’ she was like, ‘Yeah, this shit is hard.’ And she was [immediately] rapping and figuring out flows, and eventually she put it all together. It’s exciting a lot of people, and I’m happy about that.”

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Recording Vocals

“For the most part, with all the people that I work with, I don’t really have to tell them much. I trust whatever Drake does, or Nicki, or everybody. It always comes out dope. If I was working with a new artist, I would have to mentor them that way. But I like to let people just do their thing.”

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First Time Working with Drake

“I was introduced to him by my boy D10, who also does beats for Drake. He came to the studio at this place in Toronto, and I had an idea for this beat, like an old school Run-D.M.C. hip-hop beat, with the scratches in it and stuff. I was thinking that I should make something like that, but modern. So before he got to the studio, I was working on that, which ended up being ‘Do What You Do,’ and he walked in as the beat was being made. Then we chopped it up, and told him what I was planning on doing with the beat, kind of old school but new school. And he was all for it. And this was around the time that he was doing a lot of soulful, hip-hop stuff, and I had never really heard him on one of those beats. And I thought his voice would sound dope on it.

“So he ended up writing a verse to it, and then the power went out in the middle of me making the beat. So I had to remake the entire beat. It was crazy. He went in the other room to finish writing, and I had to remember how it sounded and redo [the beat from scratch]. Then he came back in, and laid the verse down and the hook as well. And that was the first song we ever did together, on Room for Improvement.

“As soon as I met Drake and heard his music, I was like, ‘I get it. This guy could be one of the greatest rappers ever.’ And this was around the time when 50 Cent was the most popular guy in music, and Jay Z, and Dipset, and gangster rap. Kanye was big around that time, too. But Drake came with something fresh. He wasn’t talking about shooting nobody, or women like they’re bitches, or spending money. He was talking about spending money, and women, but doing it in his own way, and it was very relatable. He had a song called ‘Money,’ and he was talking about filing taxes in the song, and holding onto receipts. You don’t hear rappers talking about that. And he kept it interesting, and it was dope. He’s giving you bars, but talking about regular, everyday stuff that people do.”

“Best I Ever Had”

“When I was making the track, I didn’t know it was going to be huge, because the track was very simple and to the point. It was a beat with a chopped sample, some hard-hitting drums, and an 808. I thought the beat was cool, but I never knew it was going to be a hit song. Like, when I made ‘Forever,’ I was like, ‘This could be a hit song, because this beat is dope.’ ‘Best I Ever Had,’ I had no idea. Drake made that beat into a hit song, to me. When the song was done, I knew it. I was like, ‘This is gonna be huge. This is a dope song.’

“When he first started going on tour with Wayne, and stuff really started picking up for him, he hit me, and he was like, ‘Yo, I’ve been working on this mixtape on the road, and I need maybe three more joints and that’s it, and I know you’ve got those joints for me.’ Usually we would just get in the studio together, but he was like, ‘I’m on the road, just email them to me. I know you got it, just send them over.’ So in the span of like two days, I maybe made eight tracks for him. ‘Best I Ever Had’ was one of them, and ‘Uptown’ was one of them, along with some other beats that he ended up using later on.

“I ended up sending him the beat for ‘Best I Ever Had,’ and he was flipping out over it. I didn’t think he would flip out over that one, but he was like, ‘This is incredible.’ I was like, ‘Do your thing.’ Literally, like eight hours later, he sent me back a full song. I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is crazy. The verse, the hook, this song is dope. This has potential to be a hit.’”

“Forever”

“The beat came first. That was one of those where I was in the zone feeling it, and Drake was on the road. I was like, ‘I got something crazy for you.’ He was like, ‘Send that through, bro.’ And he bugged out over it. He was like, ‘This is crack.’ He said he was going to do a song on it with Wayne, and he did. There was two versions of the song, one with just Drake and Wayne that leaked by accident, that had different verses. At first, it was just going to be a single for him. And then eventually, there was the one with Drake, Wayne, Kanye, and Eminem, with all new verses on it.

“At first, [the new version] was supposed to be Drake and ‘Ye. He was like, ‘Kanye’s jumping on this.’ I was like, ‘Yo, that’s crazy.’ Then Wayne got back on it. So now it was Drake, Wayne, and ‘Ye. And then at the last minute, they were like, ‘Yo, fucking Slim Shady jumped on it.’ And I was like, ‘No way!’ Eminem is my favorite rapper of all time, so I was like doing cartwheels. He murdered it.”

“Not Afraid”

“I believe it was 40 and Eminem that mixed ‘Forever.’ And I think Em asked 40 who did the track, and 40 told Em it was me. Em was close with my manager at the time, and I guess he hit him up, because he was like, ‘Do you have a batch to send to Em?’ And I was like, ‘Oh hell yeah, for sure.’ I sent him a bunch of beats, and he ended up using ‘Not Afraid’ and ‘Seduction’ for the Recovery album.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in the studio with rappers, but there are certain guys who just want their space to work. And I fully understand it. Some people just want to be in their own zone, and I respect that. I don’t mind sending tracks. I’ve met Em twice, but I’ve never been to the studio with him. But he is who he is. To me, he’s the greatest rapper, best lyricist ever. He’s not just anybody. I wouldn’t ever doubt that he’s not going to kill the song. What’s crazy is I never heard ‘Not Afraid’ until it came out. [Laughs.] But I was like, ‘It’s Eminem, man. That boy’s gonna murder it.’ And that he did.

“My manager hit me and was like, ‘Yo, you got Em’s new single, he’s about to drop it in two days.’ I was like, ‘Wow.’ Then he dropped it, and it was like a phenomenon. It debuted at No.1, and was like the 16th song in music history to debut and go straight to No. 1 on the charts. I always knew I would get somewhere, because I was so determined with my music to get somewhere. But going back to the days to when I was walking to HMV to buy The Slim Shady LP, the first album I ever bought in my life, to producing one of Eminem’s biggest single, I would’ve never known if could’ve gone from there to there. It’s a blessing. I just thank God. It’s exactly what I wanted to do.”

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“FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt”

“I’ve known Vinylz for years, since he was a young kid. He’s still young, but I’ve known him since he was really young, when he was working with Cassidy and stuff. So I always kept in touch with him. I hooked back up with him, and I was like, ‘Let’s work on some tracks, bro. I know you’ve got some dope stuff.’ And he ended up sending the idea for ‘FuckWithMeYouKnowIGotIt.’ He started that beat. And I just switched it up, and gave it some new bounce, and tuned it like crazy.

“I sent it to my boy Spiff TV, and he gave it to Ross, so that was originally Ross’ joint. I don’t know exactly what happened to that, I guess him and Jay Z jumped on it. Then they told us Timbaland was going to add some sounds to the beat, so I was like, ‘Oh, even better.’ Timbaland added a new swing to it. And he killed it. Ain’t nothing better than Timbo the King adding some more bounce. That little extra bounce made the song perfect.”

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“The Language”

“It was near the end of Drake’s album, and Vinylz and my next boy Allen Ritter who works with him, they were staying at my house for like two weeks in Toronto. And it was the wintertime, so we were just staying in the house working on tracks hibernating pretty much. And that beat almost came together by accident. If you notice, the 808s are in a different spot. I put them on the grid in a different place by accident. But it sounded cool, so we kept them in there. I’ve never heard nobody put 808s in that spot before. It had a new kind of bounce, and it was really slow. I knew it was something different, and something Drake would really mess with, and he could let off some flows on it. And Drake was working in Toronto, so we drove out to go see him and played him the track, and he really was vibing to it. And we maybe heard from him in two more days, and the song was done. He killed it.

“Pound Cake”

“It was a [Jay Z] verse on a Timbaland beat, originally. And Drake wanted to get a new beat, something a little bit different for it. So I got a chance to go get the vocals for it, and pretty much made the beat with Jordan Evans. He found that Ellie Goulding sample and cut it up, and I said, ‘Yeah, that’s a wrap. Give me that.’ And I took the sample, and put it over the vocals. Then I got my next boy Matt Burnett to play keys on it. And then I added the drums and put it together and said, ‘Yes, this makes sense.’ And I let The Boy hear it, and he loved it.

“I actually do better stuff when I have the vocals there first. It’s easier to manipulate everything. I was able to figure that one out pretty easily.”

Lauryn Hill Sample on “Draft Day”

“I had that in my sample folder for years. And a lot of the producers I work with, I just give them my folder with the samples. And I work with this producer named SykSense from Memphis, Tennessee. He had sent me a beat with that sample in it, but it was a slowed down, Dirty South version of that beat with the Lauryn Hill sample in it, like, ‘Watch out, watch out,’ with the 808 drums and the racing hi-hats on it. And I was like, ‘Yo, this would sound crazy with some hardcore drums on it.’ So I cut the sample out, and the way they did it, they put some cool effects on it, so I slowed it down like crazy, and put them heavy drums on it and the bass and everything, and it came out perfect. [And Drake just killed it with a long freestyle verse knowing it wouldn’t be an album cut] because that sample is pretty much unclearable.”

Upcoming Projects

“There’s some things I’m working on that I can’t even talk about right now. Just know I’ll be working on great music. Expect more stuff like what you’ve heard recently from me.”

Pics via Boi-1da’s InstagramBoi-1da.net, and Exclaim

Download Boi-1da Sound Kits HERE.

Previously:

In The Lab with Meyhem Lauren and Buckwild
In The Lab with Vince Staples
In The Lab: Blu on the Making of Good To Be Home
In The Lab with Sean C & LV
In The Lab with Harry Fraud
In The Lab with RATKING
In The Lab with The Alchemist and Evidence (Step Brothers)
In The Lab with Thelonious Martin
In The Lab with Troy Ave
In The Lab with Marco Polo
In The Lab with Black Milk
In The Lab with Oddisee
In The Lab with Pete Rock
In The Lab with Party Supplies
In The Lab with Mac Miller
In The Lab with Roc Marciano